How does the army please settlers? By upping its violence

When the settlers of Halamish complained that the IDF isn’t being violent enough, a brigadier-general assured them that he orders his troops to use unnecessary force against Palestinians. 

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

Near the Palestinian villages of Dir Nizam and Nabi Salah lies a settlement named Halamish, also known as Neve Tsuf.

About a month ago, after Palestinians threw stones at their vehicles, the settlers of Halamish took the law into their own hands and began “securing” the road leading to the settlement. The IDF didn’t like the initiative, but – lo and behold – did not use its legal authority against Israeli civilians carrying out military actions on their own initiative. Instead, it sent the commander of the AYOSH (Area of Judea and Samaria) Division, Brig. General Tamir Yadai, to talk to the lawbreakers.

Settlement of Halamish, next to Nabi Saleh (Activestills)
The settlement of Halamish, next to the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh. (photo: Activestills)

This conversation, published on the website of the Hebrew daily Makor Rishon (and which includes recordings) is very interesting for several reasons. Take, for instance the comment by Gen. Yadai after a short lecture about the differences between the military situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (listen at 4:37 in the first recording):

I don’t want to say that we changed the rules of engagement, but we became a bit harsh with the people around here; in places where we’d fire [tear] gas or rubber [bullets] in the past, now we fire Ruger [bullets], and sometimes live [bullets]. If I remember the numbers correctly, we’ve had something like 25 people hurt here in the last three weeks.

Hold it. If firing tear gas or rubber bullets was sufficient in the past, what necessitated the change? According to Yadai, nothing changed and the threat level vis-à-vis the soldiers did not increase in any way. So what did change? Well, the atmosphere in the IDF, for one. The army decided to teach the Palestinians a lesson, and therefore increased the level of violence it uses towards themregardless of the threat they represent. The brigadier-general’s comments are not empty ones – they are mere attempts to boast. B’Tselem, which noticed Yadai’s comment, recorded a series of such shooting incidents [Hebrew].

The Ruger is a .22 caliber rifle, colloquially known in Hebrew as “Tutu,” whose bullet is a relatively weak live one. Rifles are, how shall I put it, deadly weapons. When Gen. Yadai orders his troops to use a Ruger rifle or live bullets against demonstrators, he is using a deadly weapon that puts their lives at risk, especially when he knows such risk is unwarranted. Prior to his new orders, the IDF faced the same level of violence, but used rubber bullets (which may still be deadly, but the likelihood of death is smaller) and tear gas (which are not deadly except in rare cases – but may cause significant damage; and when the canister is fired using dead reckoning, i.e. directly at the victim, it may cause grievous bodily harm and even death).

An Israeli sniper aims a silenced Ruger 10/22 rifle from a tower in the separation wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem during clashes with Palestinian youth, March 11, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/
An Israeli sniper aims a silenced Ruger 10/22 rifle from a tower in the separation wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem during clashes with Palestinian youth, March 11, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/

Yadai doesn’t “want to say we changed the rules of engagement.” But in practice that is exactly what he did. Why? Considering the time and place where he made his comment, we fear that the IDF changed its rules of engagement in order to pacify the settlers. Yadai even boasted before them over the number of Palestinian wounded.

What we see here is Yadai’s attempts to defend the IDF’s actions to the settlers after the latter took part in unauthorized activity. The Mateh Binyamin Regional Council’s website reported the events in these words:

Following the escalation of security incidents on the roads surrounding Neve Tsuf, which did not receive an adequate response by the security forces, the residents of the Neve Tsuf began securing the roads independently. The residents emphasized the problematic areas, as well as the critical hours in which residents drive to work and return home. The residents’ local committee notes that the Arab rioters in the area throw stones at all hours, but often from the same points. Therefore, the residents decided to take these positions which control the road, including the hill of Dir Nizam, the hills of ‘Abud and the hills of Dir Abu Mash’al. The committee of Neve Tsuf reported that as long as the feeling of security is not restored to the roads and the region, the activities for the security of the residents will continue, and that they may even consider further action.

Immediately following the incident, and prior to the meeting between Yadai and the settlers of Halamish, our attorney, Adv. Rony Pelli, sent a strong letter to the Commander of the Central Command and the Legal Counsel of AYOSH. She wrote, inter alia:

The expected dangers from such an act ought not to be discounted. This announcement of the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council indicates an explicit intent to carry out violent offenses by the residents of the Neve Tsuf settlement on the roads near the settlement, contrary to law.

Regarding Yesh Din’s latest report about the civilian security coordinators, Pelli further noted that ” the privatization of law enforcement is taking another step forward. Not only Civilian Security Coordinators, but every resident of the settlement now considers themselves in charge of law and order enforcement.”

We were not yet aware of Yadai’s comments at the time Pelli’s comments were made . The IDF responded to her letter by writing that, “The IDF is using all the tools at its disposal, as required, in order to protect all the residents of the area, Palestinians and Israelis alike,” and that “along to speaking with the residents of the settlement, IDF forces carry out, together with the Israeli Police, actions to prevent this phenomenon.” According to the army, this includes “interrogating the participants in incidents where suspicion of law breaking arises.”

Settlers throw stones at Palestinians as IDF soldiers stand by in the West Bank village of Asira al Qibliya. April 30, 2013 (Oren Ziv/
Settlers throw stones at Palestinians as IDF soldiers stand by in the West Bank village of Asira al Qibliya. April 30, 2013 (Oren Ziv/

But the story does not end here. At that very same event where Yadai took pride in the fact that his forces shot about 25 people without due cause, sat a woman named Yael. Yael is described as a resident of the settlement for the past 31 years. According to the article, she says that the settlers, “learned in the past that only when they take matters into their own hands, is there some quiet for a long time. There was stone throwing – heaters were blown up in the village. There was stone throwing – some of their windows were broken. No one harmed anyone physically, everyone made certain only property was damaged. I believe in collective punishment and it’s a fact that following that we had six months of quiet.”

According to Yael, the residents asked her to relay a message that they do not want the IDF interfering with their activities:

You do your job, if you think you know how to do it, go for it. Don’t disturb us, we want to do our job and we know how to do our job. We think of every trip twice and think of scenarios – what happens if they throw stones or a Molotov cocktail, which kid do I pull out of the car first. Let us do our job. There will be some mess, so what?

Yael, in other words, supports sowing fear among the Palestinian population, and even admits that she knows of these activities against “the village.” She demands that General Yade’I step aside and let her and her people act as they did in the past – harming the property of innocents in order to “get some quiet.”

And what does an IDF general do when he finds himself in the presence of an Israeli civilian who openly proclaims that she intends to harm the property of protected persons? Naturally, he does not detain her. Nor does he think of complaining to the police and turning over the information he received. Law? Justice? Yadai isn’t there as senior law enforcement officer – he is there to present a report to people who can make his life very difficult.

So, again, a reminder: the duty of the IDF is to defend protected persons and their property. And now an IDF general tells us that he gave an order to increase the level of violence against them, which looks suspiciously like a peace offering to the settlers. This behavior is not new or unusual; Yesh Din’s Road to Dispossession Report already noted that the army does not understand its duty to protect Palestinians. And the many incidents of “standing aside,” which means IDF soldiers do not stop settlers from attacking Palestinians and sometimes even aiding them, is simply a manifestation of the IDF not understanding its legal function.

The IDF claims, time and again, that it does not “choose its missions” – a claim that especially suits the army when faced with the argument that its very activity in the West Bank is political (this claim is often used against conscientious objectors). But General Yadai shows us precisely how the IDF does choose its missions: it chooses not to use its legal authority against Jewish rioters, even when they are on the brink of rebellion, and it uses violence against Palestinians even when, by its own admission, it is unnecessary.

The IDF pretends to uphold the law in the West Bank; time and again, it uses the expression “illegal demonstration” or “disturbing the peace.” Listen to Yadai: this is how the AYOSH Division Commander views the law – this is what he views as order.

This is what the IDF protects, but it has nothing to do with upholding the law.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

WATCH: Soldiers protect settlers attacking West Bank village
Settler violence: It comes with the territory
Collaboration between IDF, settlers reaching point of no return

Newsletter banner 5 - 540